Sound bites: Music reviews |

Sound bites: Music reviews

Margaret HairSteamboat Pilot & Today

Is it fair to say a band was better before its musical evolution? For Cold War Kids, lets hope it is.With Loyalty to Loyalty, the Southern California quartets follow-up to 2006s robbers & cowards, Cold War Kids go head-on into sludgy blues, leaving behind all the subtly that made that first record memorable.Maybe it was a jumping off point, but robbers had a slightly disaffected, throwback pop rock sound that made sense to a lot of Cold War Kids listeners, and probably made a lot of sense to the people playing it. Its hard to tell if the same is true on Loyalty to Loyalty.Stripped-down by comparison, the tracks on Loyalty maintain Cold War Kids ability to let lyrics stand out over arrangement its just that when the arrangements drag the way they do on album opener Against Privacy, that can be a bad thing.In some spots, the Kids take a step back from their new blues-centric sound, dipping into the jingling lines that made robbers & cowards so likeable. Every Valley Is Not a Lake works like that; so do parts of Welcome to the Occupation, in a less direct and considerably more disturbed way. Golden Gate Jumpers doesnt fit that mold at all, but it is the best song on the album with its weird cabaret piano lines.Loyalty to Loyalty introduces a different Cold War Kids than the bands actual debut. The same core ideas are there, but when a record feels long at 45 minutes, those ideas dont get much of a chance to come through. 2 stars of 5

Probably the best of Ben Folds cadre of songwriting tricks is the easiest one: telling a story the way it happened, pretty much word for word, and hoping to turn that story into a metaphor.It worked for Your Most Valuable Possession (where Folds plays piano under a phone message from his father), it worked on Brick (about an ordeal with a high school girlfriend), and it worked on Not the Same (about a drug-addled night at Robert Sledges party).On Way to Normal, Folds uses the same trick with album opener Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head), the story of his literal nosedive off a stage in Japan. Sticking to the catchy-song-first, ballad-last formula thats shaped each of his records, Folds lets loose a big vamping indulgence with Hiroshima, a send-up of his self-styled comparisons to a hyper-masculine, super-snotty Elton John.Folds is funniest when hes not trying to be, and that comes through on Hiroshima. But on Way to Normal, there are too many moments where he tries too hard for his 42 years. Effington is a miss where 2005s Jesusland was a hit; B Went Nuts is a little like 1995s Julianne, but doesnt make sense coming from a decade-plus-advanced songwriter; Brainwascht isnt as smart as its intended.Still, Normals highlights are good enough to stand up to Folds strongest work. Cologne fits with his best (possibly) autobiographical ballads; You Dont Know Me is an honestly unromantic, single-worthy duet with Regina Spektor that doesnt sound like anything else Folds has done; Hiroshima will never leave your head; and Kylie from Connecticut is his best album-closer since 1999s Lullabye.Folds music always has been about lyrical and melodic ease its power pop, and thats the point. Its coy at the same time that its touching. So while there arent any breakthroughs in that formula on Way to Normal, its not likely many Folds fans expected there would be. 3 stars of 5

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